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5/10/2005
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Remote Access Gets Easier

For Continental Airlines, switching to a remote-access service from Fiberlink has resulted in substantial cost savings.

The days of trying to access the company intranet from a spotty dial-up connection in a hotel room is becoming a thing of the past. More companies are tapping into the growing number of cost-efficient services that provide mobile employees with online access via a variety of channels, including Wi-Fi, wireless broadband, and cellular.

For Continental Airlines, switching to a remote-access service from Fiberlink Communications Corp. has resulted in substantial cost savings, the airline says. Continental managers and salespeople used to grapple with four remote-access options from different vendors using different interfaces while signing on from their laptops, and often they were frustrated by sluggish dial-up connections, says Stacey Thomas, senior manager of communications technology at Continental. Additionally, it was difficult for the IT staff to manage costs for the various connectivity options. "At the end of the month we would get a big bill and would have no way to tell who was using what," Thomas says.

Fiberlink Extend 360 lets the airline provide mobile employees with one interface for signing on through Wi-Fi, dial-up, broadband, or cellular. The software comes with options for security firewalls and antivirus, patch-management, and anti-spyware software developed by vendor partners, and also integrates with Continental's Cisco VPN client. The options eliminate the need for users to launch security-related windows and make security more manageable, says William Wagner, chief marketing officer at Fiberlink.

On Wednesday, Fiberlink will unveil an upgrade to Extend360. Fiberlink has integrated wireless technology into the service known as CDMA EV-DO (Evolution-Data Optimized), a high-speed data enhancement to the latest generation of CDMA cell-phone technology. EV-DO offers download data rates of up to 2.4 Mbps and gives mobile workers another wireless option over tightly clustered Wi-Fi hot-spots and sluggish cellular and dial-up connections. EV-DO is commercially available in 30 major U.S. markets and is rapidly expanding nationwide.

Continental deployed Fiberlink's Extend360 in January 2003 to provide access for more than 1,500 employees in 150 cities. Remote access is necessary for traveling employees to be able to send and receive E-mail, tap into Continental's intranet and customer database, and access seat inventory and flight operations.

With Fiberlink, Continental also can monitor usage and set timers in each client to make sure they're not still connected if they're not being used, which helps eliminate wasteful access charges, Thomas says. "In the airline industry today, it's all about cost reduction," she says. Continental has been able to reduce its remote-access costs from more than $200,000 to less than $50,000 a month using Fiberlink.

In the next week, Continental plans to add cellular access to its Fiberlink clients and has shipped 100 cellular cards that will fit into staff laptops. In addition, Continental says it plans to adopt the new Evolution-Data Optimized upgrade.

Hosted remote-access services can be a good option for businesses with a large mobile workforce, Gartner analyst Eric Paulak says. Similar services are available from AT&T, GoRemote Internet Communications, iPass, MCI, and Netifice Communications, Paulak says. "A company that wants to ensure cost control, security management, and needs access on top of that should seriously consider checking out these services," he says. The research firm predicts that the market will at some point consolidate and be dominated by just a few large vendors.

The market for hosted remote access is growing fast. The working mobile population in the United States is 45 million and is expected to increase to 60 million in the next two years, Paulak says. That will fuel greater demand for remote access and policy management, as well as integration with voice and sales-automation tools. Says Paulak, "It's the end of the [remote access] world as we know it."

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